No one is better at unearthing golden nuggets about baseball than Tom Verducci.
Considering he’s a New York Times bestselling author and three-time national sportswriter of the year, that shouldn’t be a surprise. But even though he never played professionally, his ability to provide context for all types of game situations makes him an excellent addition to any baseball broadcast.
Verducci, who has covered the sport for more than 30 years and has written for Sports Illustrated since 1993, is serving as the reporter for the White Sox-Astros series for his TV employers, Fox and MLB Network. For Game 2 on Friday, he’ll join play-by-play voice Bob Costas and analysts Jim Kaat and Buck Showalter on MLB Network.
“When I first started out, which was obviously a long time ago, if you wanted anything in real detail other than triple crown categories, you would call the Elias Sports Bureau, and they would come back and say, ‘Yeah, but it’s going to take a couple of days,’ ” Verducci said. “I’m talking about splits of how a guy is with runners in scoring position, things you take for granted today. We’re so lucky in today’s world where we have this information so available.”
Case in point, in the top of the fourth inning of Game 1 on Thursday, Verducci broke down Astros starter Lance McCullers’ success against the Sox with his slider. To that point, McCullers had thrown 78 sliders in 17 at-bats and had yet to allow a hit. He had struck out 10 with the pitch.
But he won’t overlook the Sox’ pitching. To Verducci, the most interesting aspect of the series is the Sox’ strikeout pitchers against the Astros’ contact hitters.
“The White Sox have the best swing-and-miss staff in baseball, and the Astros have put the ball in play more than any team in baseball,” Verducci said. “It’s a fascinating matchup between the White Sox’ strikeout staff and a team that doesn’t strike out. I think that’s the Astros’ greatest advantage, that they can wear people out. We’ve seen that in postseasons past.”
We’ve also seen a reliance on bullpens, even in the early stages of this postseason. Both wild-card games saw managers pull their starters earlier than usual. Verducci said that’s the new nature of postseason baseball.
“We used to, and still do, make a big deal out of starting pitchers,” he said. “Before every game, you’ll get breakdowns on who the White Sox’ starting pitcher is against the Houston starting pitcher and who has the edge. That was great in the 80s, when two-thirds of games were decided or won by a starting pitcher. Now it’s pretty much 50-50 a postseason game will be won by a bullpen or a starting pitcher.
“Starting pitching always will be important. But the way the game is played now, they’re not pitching as deep into games, and there are more decisions because a manger, even on the bad teams, has a lot of good options in the bullpen. I think most games are decided by the bullpen and how a manager uses them.”
Verducci said he asks people all the time to name the last manager who was roasted for leaving a starter in too long. His answer, with a laugh, is that it might be former Red Sox skipper Grady Little, who left Pedro Martinez in during Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. The Red Sox had a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning, but it evaporated with Martinez on the mound.
“The numbers show and the depth of bullpens show that you’re better off taking a guy out too early rather than too late,” Verducci said. “That kind of proactive managing is a part of what postseason baseball is now. I would give Chicago an edge in the bullpen with the depth of options that Tony La Russa has. The Houston bullpen is good, don’t get me wrong. But I’d give a slight edge to the Sox.”
Verducci has other projects in the works. In June 2020, MLB Network launched the series “The Sounds of Baseball,” showcasing the greatest announcers of all-time. Verducci, who co-hosts with 2018 Ford C. Frick Award winner Bob Costas, expects to add new episodes.
“There’s many other great personalities we could get to,” Verducci said. “It’s part of the charm of baseball. The connection between broadcasters and fans I think is stronger in baseball than any other sport. We would love to do it again. It’s fantastic working with Bob.”